I love traveling for business. I love everything about it – crisp, white hotel sheets, the little shampoos, learning to navigate new streets, discovering new restaurants. Each trip makes me feel special and important, even though I know those are just stories I tell myself. They also make me feel resourceful. Yesterday, for example, when I discovered I forgot my toothbrush (I switched backpacks last minute), I set out to find another one at 6:00 a.m. through the unfamiliar Seattle streets. Success. I like those small reminders of the ability to meet life’s little tests.
And yet I feel an unmistakable pulse of homesickness when I’m away. I think of strange things – the sheen on my living room floor, the happy vibe I feel when I walk into my well-ordered kitchen, the sumptuous pillows on my bed, the light falling across my flowers – that fill me with a faint longing for home.
But most of all I think of my children.
For the record, I am the luckiest business traveling mom on the planet. Their dad is self-employed and takes them without incident or question every time I am traveling. My mom is also a couple of miles away and is always at the ready for a ride or to address any need they may have. there’s barely a hiccup in their routines. They are fine while I’m away. Fine. We text and talk. I’m usually gone for no more than 3 days.
I’m not sure what it is. It feels unnatural to be away from them. I wonder if they feel abandoned somehow, like they’re not my priority. I wonder if it’s selfish of me to be hopping on planes, pursuing my dreams and goals, when I should be making them ravioli. I feel a pull and an anxiety, like all I’m doing is counting down the moments until the real order is restored and I get back to what I’m supposed to be doing. Perhaps it’s the product of being the child of a stay-at-home mom – albeit a scrappy one that always found a way to make a buck sewing or helping out at the school – that makes a part of me feel like I am wrong somehow for leaving my teenage children.
I once expressed this thought to a friend who asked, “How would you have felt if your mom had done what you’re doing?” That helped me start thinking about it a different way (although clearly not entirely if I’m still writing about it). I would have been proud of my mom’s accomplishments if she’d been a career woman, taking care of us, trying to do the best for us. And, when I ask, my children say that’s how they feel. All that’s left is for me to be proud of myself.
I know I can’t live for my children. In a few scant years they’ll go off to start their own adult lives, as they should. It’s hard to remember, when we’ve been the ones to protect them since they were created and we love them more than our own limbs, that we don’t owe them everything. We owe them good lives, financial support, an education, but we don’t owe them our dreams and our wants. We don’t owe them the direction of our lives. That we get to follow wherever it leads us.